In this video Dr. Karen Becker discusses the reasons behind the frightening dog obesity epidemic in the U.S.
In a previous video and article, I discussed the problem of overweight cats.
Today I want to talk about their canine counterparts -- fat dogs.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimates over 40 percent of U.S. dogs are overweight. That's more than 17 million dogs.
Interestingly, according to the AVMA, only 17 percent of owners of too-heavy dogs believe their pets have a weight problem. So there appears to be some misperception among owners of overweight dogs as to what constitutes an unhealthy body size.
The reason for the distortion could be that since almost half of all dogs are overweight or obese, fat dogs are beginning to look more like the rule than the exception. Heavy dogs are becoming the "norm," making dogs at a healthy weight appear under nourished.
This isn't good news for dog parents who want their pets to live long, healthy lives.
So, who is to blame for so many overweight dogs, many of which will continue to grow in size until they're morbidly obese?
In my experience, there are three culprits in the fast growing fat dog trend.
Culprit #1: The Pet Food Industry
The fact is most dog foods are not produced with your pet's health in mind.
While it's true in the last 20 years there have been a few excellent human-grade, species-appropriate dog diets to come along, the reality is that healthy prepared canine foods are less than 10 percent of what's available on the market.
The companies making those high quality products are the little guys in the pet food industry. The big players like the makers of Science Diet, Eukanuba, Purina and Iams, have 90 percent of the market locked up, and it is those foods the majority of dogs in this country consume.
As an educated pet food purchaser, you might not be feeding mass-marketed, poor quality, rendered food to your pup, but unfortunately, the majority of dog owners are.
Pet food manufacturers aren't motivated to create nutritious foods for your dog. They're much more interested in developing marketable, profitable products.
Making Customers for Life
What the pet food industry business model means for you, the consumer, is that 90 percent of the dog foods on the market contain ingredients that are not only biologically inappropriate for canines, but are also loaded with salt, fats and sugars.
One of the reasons for these unhealthy additives is they are known to create actual addictions in the dogs that eat them.
Here's how it works.
All that added fat makes your dog's food taste more palatable to him. Believe it or not, many of the brands of foods pups especially crave are sprayed with a top coat of fat. The result is that when a pet owner tries to offer their dog a healthier food without a slick of rendered fat sprayed over it, the dog turns up her nose.
Pet food companies know if they can manage to lock your dog into a certain brand and flavor of food, they create an addiction that can last your pup's whole life. Pet owners naturally want to give their dogs the food they really enjoy.
Since the average dog owner spends over $3,000 on food during the course of a pet's lifetime, dog food manufacturers are highly motivated to sell addictive diets that will create lifelong customers.
Not only is this an unhealthy trend in terms of the fat and calorie content of most popular dog food brands, it also narrows your dog's preference down to just one type of food, eliminating the variety that any healthy diet contains.
Is Sawdust a Nutrient?
When it comes to your dog's diet, the quality of the forage he eats is important. Forage is everything your pet consumes that is not protein-based.
Most commercial dog foods contain cellulose, which is a filler added to the mix to create artificial volume and make the food cheaper to produce.
What you might not know is that cellulose is actually a fancy word for sawdust. If you look closely at cellulose-containing mixtures, you can often see peanut hulls, rice fractions and other grain industry byproducts. These are all inexpensive fillers used to bulk up the quantity of the food during processing.
These by-products are devoid of nutritional value. They are fiber sources intended to make your dog feel full, but because they offer no nourishment on a cellular level, many dogs become obsessed with eating more and more of the stuff.
So even though your pup just gobbled up a big bowl of commercial dog food full of by-products like cellulose, her protein and fatty acid nutritional requirements have not been met despite the number of calories she took in.
Dogs can become almost frantically hungry, demanding more and more calories, because their bodies are reacting to an acute or chronic lack of species-appropriate nourishment.
I'm sorry to say most pet food manufacturers don't care to meet your beloved dog's natural nutritional requirements. In fact, their profits improve when the opposite happens – when your dog's body is starved for real nutrition and he keeps demanding, and getting, larger and larger servings of his favorite nutrient-depleted processed food.
Biologically Inappropriate Dog Food Formulas
The biological appropriateness of most commercial pet foods is another big problem. Most popular dog food brands contain up to 80 percent filler, primarily corn, wheat, rice and potato.
These carbohydrates are added because a primarily meat-based mixture would be overwhelmingly expensive to produce. In fact, some of the better quality, human-grade dog foods are just too costly for most dog owners.
So pet food manufacturers build their mixtures around byproducts and carbohydrates which bulk up the end product and make it affordable for a majority of consumers.
However, since your dog wasn't designed by nature to require carbs or cellulose (sawdust), most affordable pet food is biologically inappropriate.
The Truth about Diet, Light and Other Weight Control Dog Foods
A third contributor to the canine obesity trend is weight management foods.
Marketed as "diet", "light" or low fat pet food, they claim formulas that are lower in calories and fat than other mixtures, and higher in fiber.
In theory, if your dog consumes less fat and fewer calories, she'll lose weight. The higher fiber content is a little marketing ploy borrowed from advertising campaigns for people food. Dogs have no biological requirement for the type of fiber processed pet foods contain.
Fiber will give your pup the sensation of being full, but at around 40 percent of the food mixture, it's far in excess of what your dog should be consuming. When you feed your pup a 40 percent fiber-based diet, what you get is about a cup of poop for every cup you feed.
You end up with a frequently pooping dog that is not getting the critical nutrients he needs from his fiber-filled diet mixture. And he may also be constantly hungry at a cellular level, which means his body is sending him non-stop messages to demand more and more food to fill that nutritional void.
Those of you who are nutritionally savvy have probably caught on to the fact that human foods advertised as low in fat are often high in carbohydrates.
The same model applies to dog food marketed for mature or senior dogs, or as diet or light. With these "special" diets, instead of a mixture containing 50 percent rice, the rice will be increased to 85 percent of the total formula.
Rice is indeed fat free, however, it's calorie dense. Unused calories convert to fat. So even though a food is low in fat, if it's high in carbs and your dog isn't burning those extra calories, they are being stored as fat.
The bottom line? Dogs can get very fat eating a low fat food.
Diet Mixtures Can Have More Calories than Regular Varieties
Another problem with dog food marketed as diet or light is: "diet" or "light" compared to what, exactly?
Most pet owners see advertising on the front of a bag that says the product is diet or light, and since they have a dog with a weight problem, they assume this "special" mixture is what their pup needs to shed pounds. So instead of buying the regular mixture, they make the switch to the lighter one.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Your dog can continue to gain weight on a diet or light food if her calorie intake remains in excess of what is recommended for her body weight, activity level, breed and energy requirements.
The AVMA recently released a report detailing the tremendous calorie ranges for pet foods marketed as diet or light. Calories per cup of dog food range from 200 to 700 – and all the foods in the study were considered "diet" or "light."
Obviously, if you're serving your dog a 200 calorie-per-cup food he may lose weight.
But if that special light mixture you're feeding him is at the other end of the spectrum at 700 calories per cup, your dog could actually gain weight on his "diet."
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series in which I discuss the other two culprits contributing to the canine obesity epidemic, and what you can do to keep your own precious pup from becoming a statistic.